Agency Agony Uncle

Dear Uncle Carl,

My agency has just been acquired by a foreign firm. On paper this sounds great. And talk of “investment” has been gospel since the deal was signed. But I have read of many recent foreign acquisitions leading to redundancies as the new international owners decide that by “UK” they mean London... Am I being paranoid?

I would call it a healthy paranoia.

I cannot comment on other recent foreign invasions but I can say in my experience, through others in similar situations in the 90’s, and through my own observations, whether the acquisitors are French, Asian or burger-chomping Americans, London is indeed the gherkin on their cheeseburger.

Everywhere else in the UK is simply garnish, the limp lettuce that is left behind, I fear their ‘investment’ means investment in the UK based group, not into your side salad agency. This means they will probably buy other agencies, which is good, and may help you access new and interesting clients. It may also allow you to move through the group, progressing your own career.

If the future investment was indeed spent on a London gherkin then at some point, not immediately, history says they will create a new group name, losing the heritage and brand you have worked hard to cultivate. Then they will ‘streamline’ the staff, remove the duplicates, enhancing the performance of the profit centres and enthusiastically try to encourage co-operation across the group (which won’t happen as everyone is so paranoid about losing their clients’ work, their jobs or their earn-out linked revenue streams) and if it ever gets rocky they will ‘invest’ into the jewel in the crown, the gherkin in their bun – London, while the fruits on the other branches simply wither and die. But I could be wrong.

Dear Uncle Carl,

As a successful graphics studio we are considering launching an arm to create our own consumer goods – posters, t-shirts, skateboards, art and other crafts. We have enjoyed limited success selling our designs through our website but want to take it a stage further and open a gallery or store. Do you feel that this would be an opportunity or just a distraction?

Sounds like a fucking mid-life crisis to me ‘dude’. If you can focus over the noise of your latest Greenday album let me say this, I am not one to ‘wipeout’ your idea, go for it I say… if you really must.

Yes, of course it will be a distraction but who is to say brand agencies selling tea or perfume is a distraction or simply a great demonstration of applying their own skills to a product and putting money where their mouth is?

My advice is start small. Invest your money don’t throw it away. Go online and create your brand. See if people want what you have to offer and then go from there. On your retail journey you may come across other like-minded brands and together look bigger and have more impact, more cut through. More expensive possibilities such as renting space for shops or utilising space for galleries may also come out of yet to be formed collaboration but do not rush to do this on your own.

But, yes it has the possibilities of being a huge distraction and perhaps you are actually looking for a reason to leave the graphics business altogether?

Dear Uncle Carl,

Having noticed the great adverts created by an in-house creative team for a well known UK brand, I have considered moving our creative in- house too. But how can I ensure that this team doesn’t grow stale? What are the pros and cons of such a move?

Here you stand, savior-like at the helm of your Ark, ready to create your own creative dynasty. You must feel almost Noah like; ‘I shall build a creative sanctuary and they will come and all will be great’… no it won’t.

You have no idea the storm of pain and confusion you are about to sail into. Look, I love creative people and once was one, but fuck me, they are a pain in the arse to find, hire, reward, keep stimulated, hold on to, pamper to and in general, to manage.

What makes you think a well-respected creative team, if you can find one, will want to go ‘in-house’? Most top creatives I come across would run a fekkin mile rather than be trapped under one brand, working in a market that changes by the day with a brand that never changes. Unless your brand is some international/sexy one.

Creative people tend to like to work in creative environments with other creative people and enjoy solving a variety of creative issues for a variety of client brands – it keeps them… well, ‘creative’.

They like the opportunity to improve and the opportunity to win awards. They enjoy the cut and thrust of agency life. They are pretty much a species in their own right even within an agency so how would they fit in your clientside corporate structure? The really good ones are probably paid more than you and if not you, then definitely more than your ‘senior managers’, which will piss them off as they wander by the new species with their enormous Macs and messy desks, dicking about waiting for inspiration.

Also, Noah, creative’s can be quite promiscuous as they search for new challenges and accolades.

You are kidding yourself I’m afraid. I have seen it happen many times before, do not be fooled into thinking anyone can ‘take creative in- house’ simply because your agency make it look ‘easy’; it isn’t and it’s getting harder.

Dear Uncle Carl,

My staff are messy buggers. I can’t start handing out written warnings for having a messy desk. Or can I?

I am convinced that some people, perhaps subconsciously, believe if they have a messy desk, it will make them look incredibly busy and productive. I on the other hand am, and always have been, in the camp of ‘it makes you look fucking untidy, inefficient and disorganised moron’ – harsh?

I saw it a lot and it never impressed me. I once read from some numpty the defense ‘ah well an empty desk shows an empty mind’. What about ‘messy, chaotic, rubbish tip desk, messy, chaotic, rubbish tip mind’?

There are many ways to solve this. I had a Feng Shui expert tell me that mess is a distraction, it reminds us of all the jobs we have to do and therefore we do nothing.

One of the easiest ways is to wait until they have gone home, and then walk around the agency and take photos of the mess and put them up for all to see with a heading ‘this is how our clients and prospects see our agency’.

Ensure you have provided enough easily accessible storage for their past or dormant projects and then encourage them to have only current projects out.

Are you troubled? Don’t be. send all your questions for uncle Carl to dear.carl@carnyx.com Or, If you wish to meet with carl to talk about your business, email him on ch@kloog.ch

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